Since 2019, the federal operation has confiscated tens of thousands of illegal firearms that were smuggled into the United States from China, leading to the arrest of criminals and domestic extremists, authorities said.
The efforts of the four federal law enforcement agencies, known as Operation Silent Night, seized 42,888 illegally imported silencers (4,868 firearms), leading to 204 arrests as of March, according to the U.S. Immigration Customs Service (ICE). report:.
In addition to the silencers entering the country, federal authorities have shut down websites that sell them and work with Chinese officials to stop the production of illegal silencers, according to federal law enforcement.
The operation “is really a gateway to other illegal activities,” said Robert Hammer, special agent for the Seattle Internal Security Investigation Field Office, which is part of ICE.
Officials continue to see shipments from China, but as pressure from the supply of foreign silencers slows, the threat grows, said Stacey Whitehead, a U.S. Postal Inspector general. Law enforcement is now looking for unlicensed US manufacturers to replace Chinese traders, authorities are concerned. 3D printed silencers “Like him,” Whitehead said.
Mufflers, barrels attached to the barrel of a firearm, containing blades that make the gun calmer and weaken its kickback, typically cost about $ 350 to $ 1,600 when legally purchased in the United States. Buying legally requires a special registration process, which can take weeks or months, including fingerprinting and a $ 200 tax. It is illegal to have a silencer if you cannot legally own a gun.
Hammer said Chinese mufflers are not available on Amazon or through a simple Google search. Instead, links to sites selling them are circulating among gun enthusiasts, who often come across websites such as Reddit. One Chinese site reviewed by NBC News had silencers priced at less than $ 300. It is very possible that the Chinese sites targeted for this action do not require buyers to go through a lengthy background check-in process.
Many of the buyers of silencers in China are firearms collectors who do not want to spend time and money on legal acquisitions, Hammer said. But the operation also trapped criminals who could not legally buy a silencer, as well as domestic extremists who might have wished to keep their purchases from books, Hammer said. Explosives were found during the search, he said.
In: one case in 2020A man from Seattle who could not legally own a weapon on a previous criminal charge has been arrested after ordering five silencers from China, prosecutors say. When agents searched the man’s home, they found 17 pistols and 24 rifles, many of which were unregistered “ghost rifles” he had made, as well as 10 illegal silencers and more than 300 pounds of ammunition, prosecutors said. He was sentenced to more than five years in prison.
In another case, federal agents are inside Boston In 2019, confiscated an illegal muffler intended for the regional president of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club, a group of cyclists who had long been associated. criminal activityincluding members and leaders who have been convicted murder և: Illicit drug trafficking, according to prosecutors. When agents searched the man’s home, they found several hidden cabinets with AR-15 “ghost guns”, ammunition, muffler and muffler parts. He was sentenced to more than two years in prison.
And in another case, federal agents caught three silencers sent from China to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the home of Joseph P. Berger, a 33-year-old naval veteran, shared with his parents. They searched the family home in 2021, found 12 unregistered silencers and 13 firearms, which say that Berger and his father, Joseph R.
Years ago, Berger Jr. prepared a short podcast called Alt-Right Armory, full of ethnic insults, conspiracy theories, and “peaceful thoughts” about political violence. The men were charged with possession of machine guns, unregistered firearms and unregistered silencers. Both did not plead guilty. Joseph P. Berger’s lawyer told the court that although the comments on Berger’s podcast were “fanatical”, they were protected by the Constitution, and there was “no evidence” that he acted on them.
The “silent night” operation began in 2019 after officials at the National Target Center for Customs and Border Protection in Sterling, Virginia, noticed a “huge influx” of illegal silencers from China, Whitehead said. It was expanded to include the postal inspection service, internal security investigations, the bureau of alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and explosives.
“We are deeply concerned about firearms, firearms and accessories moving through the mail,” Whitehead said.
“People who buy silencers mostly know they are breaking the law by buying them from a Chinese website without registering them with the ATF,” Hammer said.
“I have not seen a single case when someone in a post-election interview was really like that. “Oh, I did not imagine that I could not enter this Chinese site, just order a silencer, it would appear in my house,” he said.
Silences are sometimes sold using euphemisms such as “filters”, according to court records in a number of criminal cases. When a manufacturer ships them from China, the delivery manifest may be more misleading, according to Hammer.
“They are labeled as car parts. They are labeled as metal pipes. “They are labeled canned,” he said. “But they have never been labeled as a silencer.”
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